Since the pandemic began, many companies had to allow their people to work remotely for the first time. While it was not always a comfortable start with new technology and ways of working [“You are still on mute, Nick…”], many employees immediately saw the benefits of being able to work from home rather than being forced to commute to the office.
But now, with the pandemic seemingly under control and people able to return to the office, a new way of working has emerged: “hybrid work“
This is a way of working where a person can work from the office, from home, or in many cases a combination of both, such as being in the office several days a week to collaborate with colleagues and remote for the other days.
While many large companies have seen the benefits of allowing hybrid or remote work (such as Atlassian, Twitter, SAP and Microsoft), there are also large companies, and especially leaders, who seem to want people to be in the office where they can be supervised.
For example, CEO David Solomon of investment bank Goldman Sachs (known to make their staff work 95+ hours per week) wants staff back in the office 5 days a week. During an investor call, he called remote work an “aberration” that he wanted to correct “as quickly as possible.”
And Elon Musk sent an email to all Tesla employees on 31 May 2022 sent by Musk to Tesla employees, saying: “Anyone who wishes to do remote work must be in the office for a minimum (and I mean minimum) of 40 hours per week or depart Tesla. This is less than we ask of factory workers.”
So in his view, hybrid work would mean being in the office for 40 hours, and then doing additional work from home. Hardly a sympathetic view.
However, as time passes, more and more companies are asking themselves whether they should allow hybrid work at all. Does it lead to lazy employees, or employees who are actually more engaged with their work?
Well, two studies can shed some light on the question.
How does hybrid work affect job performance?
A large research study by Stanford Economics professor Nick Bloom looked at a large technology company, where 1,612 staff from engineering, marketing and finance took part in an experiment.
Half of the staff (based on birthdays on even or odd days), were allowed to work from home on Wednesdays and Fridays and be in the office the other days. The other half of staff were in the office every day. This way, there was a control group to see what impact a hybrid working process actually has.
There were 4 primary findings:
- Hybrid work reduced attrition rates by 35% and improved self-reported work satisfaction scores
- Hybrid reduced hours worked on home days but increased it on other work days and the weekend
- Hybrid employees increased individual messaging and group video call communication, even when in the office (which was also found when moving to open plan offices)
- Finally, while there was no significant impact of hybrid on performance ratings or promotions, lines of code written increased by 8%, and employees’ self- assessed productivity was up 1.8%, suggesting a small positive impact.
So according to this research, there are strong net benefits to a hybrid working system.
The challenge is to firstly get senior leadership on board, who are used to the status quo, and therefore less likely to want to change the way they manage and lead.
And secondly, there needs to be clarity on how hybrid working should actually take place. What is the reason to be in the office at all, apart from “being in the office”?
Another 2022 research study into hybrid work by Microsoft found that there is a real lack of clarity about how and why teams who can work effectively together remotely should come into the office at all.
Leaders need to make the office worth the commute, and most have not yet done this.
From the study:
38% of hybrid employees say their biggest challenge is knowing when and why to come into the office.
28% of leaders have created team agreements for hybrid work to define why and when to go to the office.
This means that 72% of leaders have not yet made it clear how hybrid should work for their teams.
If they want to reap the benefits of a more engaged workforce, they better get that sorted ASAP.
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